Seven people in 10 want more wind farms built across the countryside to meet Britain’s energy needs – despite a high-profile political backlash which jeopardises their future.
The Treasury is considering cuts of up to 25 per cent in subsidies for on-shore wind farms after intense lobbying from countryside campaigners and rural Conservative MPs.
Critics claim that the turbines – many built in picturesque places – cause significant noise pollution and would be economically unviable without such large government handouts.
But a ComRes poll for The Independent reveals surprisingly strong public support for wind farms: 68 per cent of the public believe that new wind farms are “an acceptable price to pay” for greener energy in the future.
Younger people are more supportive than older, with almost 80 per cent of those aged between 18 and 44 backing wind farms, compared with 59 per cent of those aged 45 and over.
The findings will encourage the Liberal Democrats, traditionally greenest of the three main parties, who are determined the Coalition does not falter in its drive for more renewable energy.
The ComRes survey results run counter to recent developments which have seen conservation charities, such as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, come out against the proliferation of wind farms in the countryside.
Last week a High Court judge ruled that villagers’ right to preserve their landscape was more important than the Government’s renewable energy targets.
Lincolnshire County Council is planning to use the judgment to become the first county council in Britain to prevent wind farms being built in its area, and more local anti-wind moves are expected. The growing sense of revolt is making itself felt within the Tory party – more than 100 Tory MPs wrote to David Cameron in February calling for a cut in the £400m-a-year subsidy for onshore wind farms, warning that they blight the countryside.
At the weekend it was reported that the Chancellor, George Osborne, is responding to back bench pressure over the issue by planning major cuts in the subsidies of up to 25 per cent.
Yet our poll shows that beyond rural communities, which are directly affected, and the Conservative back benches, wind turbines remain remarkably popular. Some 68 per cent of people agree with the statement, “Building new wind farms is an acceptable price to pay for greener energy in the future”, while 23 per cent disagree. and 9 per cent are “don’t knows”.
The younger generations are more likely to agree than older people. Some 79 per cent of those aged between 18 and 44 agree, compared with 59 per cent of those aged 45 and over.
There are also differences on party lines. Some 70 per cent of people who voted Liberal Democrat at the 2010 general election and 69 per cent of Labour voters agree that that wind farms are an acceptable price to pay, a view shared by only 58 per cent of Conservative voters. And 72 per cent of those in London and the South-east agree, compared with 68 per cent in the North of England, 67 per cent in the Midlands, and 63 per cent in Wales and the South-west.
The ComRes findings will encourage the Liberal Democrats, traditionally the greenest of the three main parties who, led by Energy Secretary Ed Davey, successor to the robustly pro-wind Chris Huhne, are determined that the Coalition does not water down its renewable energy drive.
Mr Davey is likely to be directly at odds with Mr Osborne inside the Cabinet, as Mr Huhne was before him, over the Chancellor’s attempt to cut wind subsidies, in response to growing pressure within the Conservative party (and back bench anger at the list of budget U-turns).
Wind farm opponents are riding the crest of a wave. They were jubilant last week when Mrs Justice Lang ruled that the Government’s renewable energy targets did not outweigh the right of the villagers of Hemsby in Norfolk to preserve their landscape.
The judge said that building four 350ft turbines, a proposal from the company Sea & Land Power and Energy which had already been rejected by both council and government inspectors, would harm the character and appearance of the beauty spot on the edge of the Norfolk Broads.
There are 3,144 onshore wind turbines in Britain, in just over 300 wind farms, with another 500 turbines offshore.
Rob Norris, a spokesman for RenewableUK, the trade association representing the wind industry, said: “This poll is evidence of the true level of support for wind energy in the UK. Although there’s a vociferous minority who don’t support renewable energy, the better-informed majority understand the many benefits.”